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Women on Display

The story of American women in medicine begins with Elizabeth Blackwell, who refused advice to study abroad or to disguise herself as a man to attend Geneva College in west central New York. Her fellow students initially voted to accept her application only because they thought it was a joke perpetrated by a rival school. The townspeople considered her either insane or a “bad woman.” Despite the odds, she graduated in 1849, the first woman in the United States to obtain a medical degree, and five years later, founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

A small display on Blackwell that filled just two cases at the National Library of Medicine was the impetus for its current exhibition, “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians.” Four years in the making, the exhibit features biographies and artifacts from more than 300 female physicians, from Blackwell onwards. There are 25 with M.D.’s from Johns Hopkins, more than any other medical school, and as many more with current and former faculty appointments here.

Elizabeth Fee, chief of the library’s History of Medicine Division and a former professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, finds that not surprising. “After all, Hopkins [medical school] had women from the very first when it opened, and that’s quite a long history.”

A sampling of women in the exhibition from Hopkins’ past includes Helen Taussig, Florence Sabin and Dorothy Reed Mendenhall. Notable women like Georgeanna Seeger Jones, Mary Ellen Avery, Jennifer Niebyl and Bernadine Healy also made the list, as did current Gyn/Ob faculty members Jean Anderson and Karin Blakemore, and internist Mary Newman.

Free, 40-minute guided tours are held weekdays at 2 p.m. at the National Library of Medicine on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda. If you can’t make the trip, check out the online version at

—Mary Ellen Miller

Hopkins notables
Georgeanna Seeger Jones   Karin Blakemore   Helen Taussig




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